Art Rocks: Metalsmith Artists Hillary West and Robbi Farschman on Working with Stones
- On September 12, 2017
Earth is an artist, and some of her best work comes in the form of rocks–gems and minerals of luminous color and clarity. To pay homage to this earthly art form, Art Gym has collected a slew of artists (metalsmiths, painters, installation artists) who work with this diverse natural element for the 3rd annual Art Rocks Exhibition, Sept. 14-Oct 7, 2017.
Art Gym’s outreach director Julia Dillard caught up with two metalsmith artists in the show to find out how they work (sometimes even collaborate) with rocks. (Photo credit: Ryan Oak, Awol Visuals, of Hillary West)
HILLARY WEST: Hillary West’s childhood in the desert left a mark on her soul, and it shines through in her work. She says she often feels like her work doesn’t come from her–she is just the vehicle for expression. She creates bold pieces “with components of solid and soft energies,” giving voice to the duality within all of us. She shared a little bit of her personal story with us, and why she thinks jewelry is so special as an art form.
Julia: I was so intrigued by your connection to the desert where you grew up – when you are selecting stones for your work, do you feel like your connection to that environment informs those choices?
Hillary: Yeah, I have a tendency to be drawn more to stones that are natural to the desert – but I think it’s more in how the stones show themselves as part of this landscape that I’m really used to looking at. Even if they are stones that have nothing to do with the desert, I’ll see a desert rainstorm, the image of it, in the stone, or something emotional that connects me to the desert.
Julia: What do you think is special about metalsmith work as an art form, particularly working with stones?
Hillary: Jewelry is so personal – people get pieces to mark their lives, like “I just broke up with my boyfriend” or this big thing happened in my life. And then there’s heirloom pieces that get passed down in families – I have some Navajo turquoise pieces from my Grandmother and they are so special to me – I feel like these earth elements carry energy and people’s history, and I really feel that when I wear them. It’s almost like I can be someone else.
“I have some Navajo turquoise pieces from my Grandmother and they are so special to me – I feel like these earth elements carry energy and people’s history, and I really feel that when I wear them. It’s almost like I can be someone else.”
Desert Rain Ring – Hillary West
Julia: You talk about using “solid and soft energies” in your pieces–can you say more about that and what that means to you and you work?
Hillary: I have polycystic ovarian syndrome, which basically means my body over-produces androgens which are a male hormone. So even within my own body, myself, I’ve gone back and forth between how I feel as a person, I don’t feel male, but I definitely don’t feel female a lot of the time–not that my sexuality is a question, but there’s so much that’s inside of me that doesn’t necessarily feel soft. Both energies are really valuable, and I incorporate that in my work to remind myself of the delicateness of who I am, and of the strength and stubbornness I have as well. Duality always exists, and finding balance is what we are all trying to do.
Julia: I’m also curious about how this idea of soft and solid energies relates to the materials that you work with, between stone and metal.
Hillary: Yes, that idea definitely translates to the visuals in my work. If I’m creating a custom piece for someone, it depends on their personality whether I use sharp angles, or curves, or softer colors, or more clear design vs flowing design. Stones too, will ask for certain things. A lot of times I will build my work around a stone, and it will just ask to be inside of a certain shape, or it wants to be complimented and have an opposite shape.
Julia: I love how you phrase that – stones ask for things. It sounds like a co-creation between you and the stones you’re working with.
Hillary: Yeah, and with metal as well. I don’t think that my work comes out of nowhere. When people compliment me on stuff, it’s hard for me to say “thank you” because I feel like I’m taking all the credit for it. But it doesn’t feel like my work always comes from me, I’m just a vehicle for it to be expressed, like the means for the translation. Usually I’m like “Yeah, it came out really cool huh?”, like I’m really stoked too, because I didn’t even know that was going to happen!
Julia: How do you hope other people will be impacted by your work?
Hillary: The thing I really love abut jewelry is the connection you can have with it. Earth minerals particularly heal, in and of themselves, too. I guess I want my work to allow others to feel safe, connected to something that’s really grounding, and also feel beautiful. Jewelry is cool because it’s art you can wear and have with you–instead of a blankie or a teddy bear, wearing it doesn’t look weird like you’re a crazy person.
“I pour a lot of energy into the work I do as well, and I hope that energy allows people to feel inspired in their life, to create and do things that make an impact.”
Royalty Necklace – Hillary West
ROBBIE FARSCHMAN: Leaping into the full-time artist life with only 3 metalsmith classes under her belt, Robbie Farschman developed her own ways of working through experimentation and risk-taking. She gravitates towards “pieces of size” and loves to let the natural beauty of stones speak for themselves. She spoke to us about what’s inspiring to her in working with stones.
Julia: What is your relationship to stones in your work as metalsmith artist?
Robbie: When I initially made this leap into metalsmith work, I’d only taken a few classes so I had no idea how to set stones. The first few years of my work I didn’t include stones, partially because I was afraid of the price point–then I thought “Screw it, if I love a stone, someone else will love it too!”
I love setting natural edge stones, agates and amethysts, which are in some of the pieces in the Art Rocks show. I love to do settings that are inspired by the stone itself. I don’t like to cover the stone with a bezel, I do a lot of open, airier settings, which is really different and something I think people appreciate about my work. There’s more of an artistic feel to it.
“Stones are so wonderful–here’s something beautiful that was in the earth, a natural thing, and now we can think of it differently, as adornment. It rocks!” (chuckles)
Necklace – Robbi Farschman
Julia: I’ve talked to a lot of metalsmith artists about their relationship to rocks, and some feel a very spiritual connection, while others are very technical in how they relate to rocks. Where on the spectrum do you fall?
Robbie: I’m definitely on the side of feeling connected to things that come from earth – and the colors of natural stones are what really get me. There’s going to be a pair of uveravite earrings in the show–bright green, the color baby grass would be. People sometimes think the stones I work with are dyed because the colors are so vivid, but they aren’t. I’m blown away by the brilliant, dramatic colors they come in.
Stones are so wonderful–here’s something beautiful that was in the earth, a natural thing, and now we can think of it differently, as adornment. It rocks! (chuckles)
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